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Find more The Year's Best Crime Novels
Inflation has hit this year’s top 10 list: it’s become the top 11. Like an airline coping with an overbooked flight, we asked for volunteers to step down, but when no one was forthcoming, we did what airlines never do and added another seat. Last year’s list boasted eight newcomers, but this time there’s a more even mix of six first-timers and five returnees. The newcomers include two first novels (Matt Beynon Rees’ The Collaborator of Bethlehem and Michael Cox’s The Meaning of Night: A Confession), and one genre-bending tour de force by a Pulitzer-winning literary novelist (Michael Chabon, whose The Yiddish Policemen’s Union proves that, in the right hands, the crime novel can support whatever thematic weight an author chooses to give it). Among the returnees are Michael Connelly, whose Echo Park rivals The Narrows for the honor of best Harry Bosch novel; Alan Furst, whose ownership of wartime Paris as a literary landscape seems absolute; and C. J. Box, who has laid similar claim to the wilds of Wyoming.
In the past, we’ve used this space to honor, in addition to a top 10 (or 11), outstanding first crime novels and superior installments in long-running series. This year we’ve focused on authors of crime fiction who fall between those two categories: rising stars of the genre who have written only a few books yet seem about to land on everyone’s must-read list. Get ahead of the curve and read them now, if you haven’t already.
This first in what we hope will become a series stars Melbourne homicide detective Joe Cashin, who has been temporarily reassigned to his hometown in rural Australia while he recovers from injuries only slowly explained. But despite its remote landscape, the little town of Port Munro generates some big-city crime. Evoking a view of the continent that is more Ian Rankin than Crocodile Dundee, Temple tells a troubling tale of race and class conflict—with an even darker crime at the heart of it. This deeply intelligent thriller starts slowly, builds inexorably, and ends unforgettably.
The Collaborator of Bethlehem, by Matt Beynon Rees. 2007. Soho, $22 (1-56947-442-7).
With the death of Israeli novelist Batya Gur, there is a very large gap to be filled in the crime fiction of the Middle East, and Rees seems poised to fill it. His gripping first novel is about a history teacher in Bethlehem, struggling to keep politics out of the classroom, who becomes involved in a criminal investigation when his friend, a Palestinian Christian, is arrested for the murder of a PLO soldier. In the complex, uncompromising tale of a good man caught in an untenable world, Rees captures the human spark of daily lives being led in totally polarized, soul-deadening conditions.
Echo Park, by Michael Connelly. 2006. Little, Brown, $26.99 (0-316-73495-0).
After the killer in a 1993 murder is caught by chance and linked to nine more deaths, it is revealed that Harry Bosch may have missed a clue that could have solved the case at the outset. As Harry confronts the train wreck that could destroy his career, he must answer a fundamental question about himself: Is he a good cop with no tolerance for phonies, or an uncontrollable rogue whose hubris costs lives? That issue has been at the core of Connelly’s landmark series for years, and the answers that emerge here are not as clear as one might assume. As suspenseful as it is psychologically acute.
Free Fire, by C. J. Box. 2007. Putnam, $24.95 (0-399-15427-2).
Fired from his job as a game warden, Joe Pickett is hired by Wyoming’s loose-cannon governor to conduct an under-the-radar investigation of crime in Yellowstone National Park. With this celebrated series now in its sixth installment, Box forges a perfect alloy of familiar and fresh. Setting the action in the bubbling Yellowstone caldera—which could blow sky high at any moment, we’re told—is a masterstroke, lending both urgency and the long view to the proceedings.
The Foreign Correspondent, by Alan Furst. 2006. Random, $24.95 (1-4000-6019-2).
Furst’s latest expatriate in prewar Paris is Carlo Weisz, a journalist drawn into the steadily more dangerous activities of the Italian Resistance. What makes Furst’s world so utterly seductive is the tiny sliver of time he writes about: Europe in 1939, when secret agents of every stripe were huddled in Paris, and cynical individualists were facing the realization that even they stood to be caught in the cross fire. No one creates mood and place as vividly as Furst, and no one has ever written about one of history’s most over-romanticized periods with such a determinedly antiheroic spirit.
The Limehouse Text, by Will Thomas. 2006. Simon & Shuster/Touchstone, paper, $14 (0-7432-7335-4).
Scottish “private inquiry agent” Cyrus Barker and his assistant, Welshman Thomas Llewelyn, return in their third adventure in a series that has quickly placed itself near the top of the historical-mystery pecking order. Set near the end of the Victorian era, the series combines a Holmesian flavor with full-bodied characterizations and striking period detail. Here Barker and Llewelyn navigate London’s Chinatown in search of a rare text revealing secret and highly lethal martial-arts techniques.
The Meaning of Night: A Confession, by Michael Cox. Norton, 2006. $26.95 (0-393-06203-1).
This enthralling historical thriller—set in 1854 London, cast as a confession, and written in the dense and formal style of a Victorian novel—tells the unusual story of Edward Glyver, bibliophile, photographer, and murderer. Cox invokes emotions, from the iciest betrayal to all-consuming love, on a grand scale and gives them an equally impressive backdrop: a fetid London, its streets filthy but its people in thrall to the smallest details of social stratification. A must for David Liss fans.
Vicious Circle, by Robert Littell. 2006. Overlook, $24.95 (1-58567-855-4).
Littell’s latest brainy thriller probes very near the heart of the timeworn conflict over a land made and kept holy through regular libations of martyrs’ blood. All the world holds its breath when—days before an Arab-Israeli settlement that will establish an autonomous Palestinian state—an extreme Zionist rabbi is taken hostage by an Islamic Fundamentalist doctor. Littell presents a physical and mental landscape of stark beauty and ugliness, spinning a tale fit to hold its own with John le Carré’s Little Drummer Girl and Robert Stone’s Damascus Gate.
Winter’s Bone, by Daniel Woodrell. 2006. Little, Brown, $22.95 (0-316-05755-X).
Sixteen-year-old Ree Dolly, who dreams of escaping her Ozark family of crank cocaine dealers by joining the army (“where you get to travel with a gun and they make everybody help keep things clean”), is caught in the cross fire when her daddy jumps bail, leaving her stuck with her two younger brothers and the prospect of forfeiting the house if the old man doesn’t show up for his court hearing. Woodrell, who has made a career of finding poetry in the beat-up souls of Ozark rednecks, mixes tough and tender in word-perfect proportions.
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, by Michael Chabon. 2007. HarperCollins, $26.95 (9780007149827).
Chabon’s alternate-history saga of Jewish life since World War II plays with the conventions of the private-eye novel, but this is no mere genre parody. Drawing on the obscure historical fact that Alaska was proposed by FDR to become the postwar Jewish homeland, Chabon constructs a nightmarish world in frigid Sitka, where black humor is a kind of life-supporting antifreeze and where a browbeaten detective, Meyer Landsman, must stave off Armageddon. In delectable prose seasoned with all manner of Yiddish wordplay, the novel combines satire, homage, metaphor, and genuine suspense.
The Zero, by Jess Walter. 2006. HarperCollins/Regan, $25.95 (0-06-089865-8).
Michael Gruber (The Book of Air and Shadows, Morrow).
Lev Grossman (Codex, Harcourt).
Carol Goodman (The Sonnet Lover, Ballantine).
W. L. Ripley (Pressing the Bet and Springer’s Gambit, both St. Martin’s/Minotaur).
Brad Smith (All Hat and Busted Flush, both Holt).
Louise Penny (Still Life and A Fatal Grace, both St. Martin’s/Minotaur).
Hard-Boiled Detective Novels
Richard Hawke (Cold Day in Hell and Speak of the Devil, both Random).
Ruth Downie (Medicus, Poisoned Pen).
Philippa Morgan (Geoffrey Chaucer series, Carroll & Graf).
James Church (A Corpse in the Koryo, St. Martin’s/Minotaur).
Colin Cotterill (Disco for the Departed, Thirty-three Teeth, and The Coroner’s Lunch, all Soho).
Jose Carlos Somoza (Zig Zag, HarperCollins/Rayo, and The Art of Murder, Abacus).
Reed Arvin (Blood of Angels and The Last Goodbye, both HarperCollins).
J. D. Rhoades (The Devil’s Right Hand, Good Day in Hell, and Safe and Sound, all St. Martin’s/Minotaur).
Milton T. Burton (The Sweet and the Dead and The Rogues’ Game, both St. Martin’s/Minotaur/Thomas Dunne).
Lisa Unger (Sliver of Truth and Beautiful Lies, both Crown/Shaye Areheart).
Deon Meyer (Dead before Dying, Dead at Daybreak, and Heart of the Hunter, all Little, Brown).
Jeff Lindsay (Dearly Devoted Dexter and Darkly Dreaming Dexter, both Doubleday).
Alex Berenson (The Faithful Spy, Random).
Olen Steinhauer (36 Yalta Boulevard, The Confession, and The Bridge of Sighs, all St. Martin’s/Minotaur).
Tony Broadbent (Spectres in the Smoke and The Smoke, both St. Martin’s/Minotaur/Thomas Dunne).
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